Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (left) and Oscar Stenstroem, chief negotiator of the NATO accession process, hold a press conference on membership in Stockholm on March 14, 2023. (Fredrik Sandberg / TT News Agency via AP)

HELSINKI (AP) — Sweden’s prime minister acknowledged on Tuesday that neighboring Finland is likely to join NATO ahead of his country because of Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s bid.

Speaking at a press conference in Stockholm, Ulf Kristersson said that since the Alliance summit in Madrid last June, it had become clear that Finland’s path to membership was easier than of Sweden, and that it is now more and more likely that Finland will join NATO first.

Turkey accuses both countries, but especially Sweden, of being too lenient towards groups that Ankara considers terrorist organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish organizations. Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had fewer problems with Finland’s entry.

Since announcing their desire to join the military alliance in May last year, Finland and Sweden have consistently insisted that they would join together “hand in hand”.

But Kristersson told reporters on Tuesday that now “it is not excluded that Sweden and Finland will be ratified at different stages”.

All 30 members of NATO must approve the entry of a new member. All signed the two nations’ accession protocols last year and 28 have ratified them. In early March, Hungarian lawmakers began discussing the Nordic bids and Budapest could give them the green light by the end of the month, leaving Turkey the last to stand.

Ankara maintains that it continues to seek guarantees from the two countries.

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